DANVILLE — After having to spend time away from home when her 4-year-old daughter had surgery, Melissa Widerquist realized the importance of offering families a place to stay when a child is hospitalized.

“My youngest, Ella, had to have surgery in Philadelphia,” said Widerquist, who is from Lewisburg. “We were lucky enough, we had somewhere to stay.”

However, her thoughts quickly turned to families who have to travel to hospitals far from home to be with an ill child.

“I’ve had a child in the hospital,” Widerquist said. “It’s a very scare and tender time.”

As a result of having to stay in Philadelphia while her daughter was hospitalized, Widerquist started volunteering with the Ronald McDonald House of Danville.

Her daughter’s surgery was in October. She has made a full recovery.

Widerquist has been volunteering in Danville for the past three months.

“I didn’t realize how many people stay here,” she said, of the Ronald McDonald House. “I didn’t realize there are some guests who have been here for months. It’s nice to know I’m helping, even if it is a few hours a week.”

Ginetta Reed, director of Development and Communications for the Ronald McDonald House of Danville, said the house has 19 bedrooms and can accommodate up to 64 guests at one time.

Families may stay at the house while their child is hospitalized at Geisinger Medical Center.

Reed said volunteers and fundraising are crucial to the home, which operates on an approximately $800,000 annual budget.

Widerquist said the process of becoming a volunteer with the house is an easy one.

“I came for an interview,” she explained. “You have to have your clearances... You have two or three training session. The training is very thorough.”

As part of the process, Widerquist said new volunteers spend time shadowing those who already serving with the Ronald McDonald House.

“They run you through every scenario that could happen,” Widerquist said.

She volunteers one or two days per week at the front desk. Among her duties, Widerquist helps guests to check in when they arrive at the house.

Widerquist also assists in other areas as well.

“We had a case of bananas brought in and didn’t know what to do with them,” she said. “I made banana muffins.”

When volunteering at the house, Widerquist can tell those who are staying there are relieved to not have to worry about having a roof over their heads close to the hospital.

Like Widerquist, Jodi Batman of Lewisburg also draws inspiration from those served by the Ronald McDonald House of Danville.

Batman, a board member, has been volunteering with the house for four years.

“I was shocked by how many people I knew used the house,” she said. “To be able to help people when they are going through a rough time gives me a sense of peace.”

Batman’s volunteerism started when she was asked to host a fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House after she attended one in Williamsport.

Eventually, she organized a Light the House fundraiser in Lewisburg. The dinner and auction raised $45,000 in its first year.

Over the three years which it has been held, Light the House has raised $125,000.

“What they do here is so incredibly important and so meaningful,” Batman said, of the Ronald McDonald House. “It helps the families who are going through a rough time.”

The next Light the House fundraiser will be held in the fall.

Batman said there may be some misconceptions among people who don’t realize that the Ronald McDonald House of Danville and its programming is funded primarily through donations and fundraisers.

“Like a lot of other people, I thought (Ronald McDonald House) got a lot of support from Geisinger,” Batman said. “They’re 100% on their own where. They are 100% nonprofit, on their own.”

Throughout the year, Reed said the home has approximately 2,000 volunteers who help. That includes those who give of their time during Camp Dost, which the home holds for one week each summer for cancer patients and their siblings.

Also included in the volunteer count is those who provide meals for those staying at the Ronald McDonald House of Danville.

Reed said volunteers are always needed to participate in the Meals That Heal program.

“Being able to come and provide breakfast, lunch or supper is important,” she said. “It eliminates the worry of how or where (house residents) are going to eat.”

Reed said the meals can be prepared either on or off site. Volunteers are especially needed to provide breakfast and lunch.

“A lot of the volunteers that help with the meal program help with dinner,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of volunteers with breakfast or lunch.”

The next fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House of Danville will be the fourth annual Taste of the Town, to be held from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1, at the Bloomsburg Fairgrounds.

Tickets are $40 in advance or will be $50 at the door. The event will include, wine, spirits and beer samples, appetizers, live entertainment, vendors and a basket raffle.

For information on volunteering with the Ronald McDonald House of Danville, contact Michael Jacobs at mjacobs@rmhdanville.com.

For more information on the house, visit rmhdanville.org.

Staff writer Kevin Mertz can be reached at 570-742-9671 or email kevin@standard-journal.com.

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